Cameron Smith qualified for the United States National Ski Mountaineering Team after just three years of competing in the discipline. He will be the youngest racer representing the U.S. when he competes at the World Championships this February.
Ski mountaineering (skimo) is a rapidly emerging sport that blends endurance and alpine skiing to test one’s overall ability to move swiftly and safely in extreme terrain. Races range from 30-minute sprints to 12-hour epics.
Smith was a promising high school distance runner from Rockford, Illinois before attending Western. He decided to pursue an athletic career on Western’s Mountain Sports Team instead of one in an NCAA running program after touring the campus and surrounding backcountry. Although the Midwest didn’t provide him with mountains to ski and explore, he credits it with his motivation to recreate every day.
“Growing up in the Midwest gives me a fresh sense of appreciation for the mountains,” Smith said.
The first skimo race Smith signed up for was the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse with his older sister and 2015 Western grad, Zoe Smith. The lively, welcoming and challenging spirit of the event captured his heart and led him to pursue racing on the Colorado Ski Mountaineer Cup (COSMIC) race series. These events are shorter and more technical than the notoriously epic Grand Traverse, a 40-mile overnight race from Crested Butte to Aspen, and have led him into the hardcore competitive skimo scene.
Smith is relatively new to the competitive scene. Nevertheless, his relentless work ethic and commitment to waking up before sunrise to ski in the backcountry, hiking Mt. Crested Butte after the lifts have closed for the day and racing in subzero and blizzard conditions without complaint is quickly pushing him further into the elite ranks.
“I find more meaning in a difficult lifestyle,” he said. “Doing challenging things everyday gives me meaning and reason to get up every day.”
While Smith is both surprised and stoked by his qualification for the World Championships so early in his career, he is most excited by being a part of one of the fastest growing winter sports in America.
“It’s like being a triathlete four decades ago. Nobody really knows the limits of what the sport can be right now,” he said.
Unlike almost every other athlete who will be competing at the World Championships, Smith is a full time student in the Exercise and Sport Science (ESS) department. Western has been a crucial supporter of Smith’s outstanding accomplishments.
“Not only has Western reached out to help me compete at worlds, but has been essential in starting all of this in the first place,” he said.
Story by Peter Noon. Photos by Grace Owen, Peter Noon and Trent Bona.